Spider-Man versus Kraven! The Lizard versus Kraven Jr.! The Vulture and his hordes versus everyone else! "Hunted" reaches its climax as everyone squares off... and not everyone is going to walk away unscathed.
It’s not often that a writer tells you that the story you’ve just read was a complete waste of your time, but Nick Spencer often excels at exceeding such pedestrian conventions as “logical climaxes” and “meaningful storytelling.” Following suit to his disastrous Secret Empire, “Hunted’s” finale sticks the landing with all the grace of a lead water balloon.
There are three major action beats in this issue, and each of them ends anticlimactically, leaving the reader to wonder, “Wait, what was the point of that?” I’ll start with the Lizard versus Kraven Jr., because it’s the most detached from the other two.
ROUND ONE: LIZARD VS. KRAVEN JR.
As it was left last issue, at the Lizard’s insistence, Spider-Man deactivated the inhibitor chip in his reptilian adversary’s neck, thus reverting him to his most animalistic, bestial form. This was done so that Lizard would have the savagery to successfully protect his son from Kraven Jr., who up until this point has been an unstoppable hunting and killing machine. The two collide, and what should be an epic throw-down ends in the Lizard, somehow overcoming his animal nature despite implicitly stating that wasn’t possible with the inhibitor chip destroyed and stopping short of killing Kraven Jr. when he sees how scared his son is seeing him like that. Spencer clearly intends a warmhearted poetry here, but when the Lizard just bounds off with Billy in tow and leaves Kraven Jr., readers are not only robbed of an epic battle that’s been building for the last few issues, but are given no closure as well. Lizard was clearly set-up to be an X-factor in the entire story, only in the end to be little more than a footnote. Spencer could have excised the entire Lizard/Billy subplot and “Hunted” would have read exactly the same.
ROUND TWO: SPIDER-MAN VS. KRAVEN
The heart of the story is, of course, Spider-Man vs. Kraven. The entirety of “Hunted” has been about Kraven’s philosophical attempts to restore a sense of sanctity and honor to the act of hunting, but on a far more personal level, that means for him defeating Spider-Man. This is no mere rehash of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” though (although there are numerous references and allusions throughout); this time, Kraven is reeling from the fact that Spider-Man refused to kill him and give him peace after he was brought back from the dead. His notion is that if Spider-Man understands the purity of the hunt and applies it to who and what he is as “the Spider,” he’ll realize that it is in honor’s best interest for him to kill Kraven.
Naturally, that’s not what happens.
Spider-Man, of course, doesn’t kill. No matter what. So instead he beats the snot out of Kraven, which in turn engenders a revelation on his part: that Spidey, in his insistence on not killing, is a form of aspirational purity that Kraven can never achieve, nor never tarnish by coercing him to kill. Kraven then realizes the folly of his entire endeavor, and summons Arcade to release the prisoners and deactivate all the hunters’ VR-suits. Spidey swings away and Kraven is remorseful, having realized his entire plan – and while readers realize this entire story – was ultimately for nothing. Months and months of build-up, just to have the antagonist have a change of heart and let everybody go.
ROUND THREE: THE VULTURE AND HIS CRONIES VERSUS EVERYONE ELSE
During the latter half of “Hunted,” the Vulture has been amassing personal power amidst tragedy by rallying the villains to his side. They’ve been circling the wagons, waiting for the perfect moment to strike…
…only to have the battle fall completely flat after Arcade deactivates the hunters’ VR-armor. None of the villains know what has happened, but the Vulture takes the opportunity to declare victory since nobody there can dispute that he didn’t have anything to do with it. With the dome deactivated as well, the villains disperse into the night.
Any one of these three subplots ending on a rough note or with a general sense of anticlimax, and it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. But all three falling flat? Spencer proves here that swinging for the fences is ultimately meaningless if you have no idea how you’re going to pull everything together in the end. Oh, there’s lots of pontificating about the nature of the hunt, the morals of killing, and so on and so forth, not to mention many, many attempts at reminding readers they could be reading the far-superior “Kraven’s Last Hunt” instead (speaking of which, whatever happened to all those extra Vermin running around?), but ultimately “Hunted” winds up being a blank slate of a story with nothing of consequence to say, made all the worse by fervently pretending it does.
And then there’s Humberto Ramos’ garish and unprofessionally inconsistent art. I’ve criticized it multiple times in past issues’ reviews, but I think this panel of Noodle Boy Spidey about says it all:
This should be completely unacceptable.
In the end, what did "Hunted" accomplish? It spun its wheels for three months and then rushed to a conclusion that ultimately sputtered out and died. The highlights were the .HU issues, which highlighted what Spencer does best: small-focus character-based stories. Ultimately, though, those one-offs weren't enough to save "Hunted" from being a completely forgettable missed opportunity of a story.
Amazing Spider-Man #22: …Out With a Whimper
Writing - 2/102/10
Storyline - 3/103/10
Art - 3/103/10
Color - 5/105/10
Cover Art - 4/104/10
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